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The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,068 Ratings  ·  142 Reviews
The Little Ice Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable, and often very cold years of modern European history, how this altered climate affected historical events, and what it means for today's global warming. Building on research that has only recently confirmed that the world endured a 500year cold snap, renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increas ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published December 27th 2001 by Basic Books (first published 2000)
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Dana Stabenow
Oct 10, 2008 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it
A dossier on a 550-year European cold snap compiled from tree rings, ice cores, and the accounts of country clergymen and gentlemen scientists. Do we make the weather, or does it make us?

Because the Arctic ice pack receded during the Medieval Warm Period, Fagan writes, the Vikings invaded Europe from England to Tuscany and even Constantinople. Because the Arctic ice pack receded the Atlantic cod moved north and provided a food source for regular trips to Greenland, which the Vikings then coloniz
...more
Kristin
May 01, 2013 Kristin rated it it was ok
I'm a climatologist reading a book on climate by an anthropologist, so I'm going to be skeptical. I enjoyed the history of agricultural development in Europe and the North Atlantic, especially passages such as this:

"Filthy, clad in rags, barely surviving on a diet of bread, cheese, and water, the rural worker of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain was a far cry from the attractive, apple-cheeked villager so beloved of artists and greeting card companies." [page 146]

I was less satisfied wi
...more
Emma Sea
My favourite kind of pop-science writing! This is so easy to read, and supported by a ton of references and further reading without unbearably cluttering up the text. The only part which I'd rate less then 5 stars is the conclusion. I'm not sure if Fagan's publishers wouldn't let him write something more realistic, but the notion that humans will suddenly decide to "work for the global rather than the national good, for the welfare of our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren rather than to satis ...more
Cynda
Nov 23, 2016 Cynda rated it really liked it
This is the first book I have read by Brian Fagan. I will be reading more.
Fagan points out that no respectable historian would say that weather created political revolutions or population movements, but there are connections. The particularly cold and wet weather often experienced between 1300 and 1850 contributed to poor agricultural results when most people were serfs or small land owners. The hunger and cold and diseased misery and deaths of so many people contributed to emigration to cities
...more
Libby
I like to think that I know a lot about history. Periodically, authors like Brian Fagan teach me how much more there is to know. This book is bursting with information about how the Medieval period I thought I understood,was formed and influenced by factors I didn't know or didn't understand. Let's start with style. Fagan is a dynamic writer. He moves his narrative along swiftly and surely like a championship skier on a difficult downhill. We get the thrills and not the spills. When I say thrill ...more
Sarah
Apr 17, 2009 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2009
Technically I did not finish this, since I had to take it back to the library before I could finish the last three chapters, but I did skim them. So, I read this book. In its entirety. Don't try to talk me out of it.

Very informative! It seems that weather gets ignored a lot in history, when weather played a pretty big role in deciding the survival of life itself in the pre-industrial world. The only time it gets mentioned, really, is when it plays a large role in some single struggle, like the w
...more
Caroline Caldwell
Aug 08, 2013 Caroline Caldwell rated it really liked it
A well researched, but definitely biased, look at the interaction between humans and the natural world we inhabit. I felt a little talked down to and manipulated by the direction of the narrative, but the facts are interesting. I just wish he would have left out the diatribe at the end about how global warming was going to do crazy stuff and we aren't doing anything to stop it. It was immature on his part. I think it is much more powerful to let the facts to speak for themselves. I appreciate th ...more
Jessica
Sep 21, 2007 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: history, geography
The amount of time Fagan must have spent in dark and dusty European archives blows my mind. His research uncovers forgotten records in amazing detail. Unfortunately, the book could use an equally fastidious editor. Very interesting, if poorly organized. I still recommend it, though!
Richard Reese
Mar 22, 2015 Richard Reese rated it it was amazing
Once upon a time, Brian Fagan became curious about how history has been shaped by climate. He did a remarkable amount of research, and then delivered a fascinating and very readable book, The Little Ice Age. Mainstream history tends to focus on rulers, empires, wars, and technology, providing us with a pinhole perspective on ages past. Fagan used a wide angle lens, and revealed how the miserable peasantry of Europe struggled to survive in a world of daffy rulers, steamroller epidemics, wildly er ...more
Tim Martin
Aug 30, 2012 Tim Martin rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, history, reviewed
_The Little Ice Age_ by Brian Fagan is a fascinating, very readable, and well researched book on the science and history of a particular period of climatic history, the "Little Ice Age," which lasted approximately from 1300 to 1850. Despite the name, the Little Ice Age (a term coined by glacial geologist Francois Matthes in 1939, a term he used in a very informal way and without capitalized letters) was not a time of unrelenting cold. Rather, it was an era of dramatic climatic shifts, cycles of ...more
Bibliophile
Mar 26, 2009 Bibliophile rated it really liked it
Brian M. Fagan's The Little Ice Age is a fascinating general history of Europe that focuses on the role of climate change (specifically, the five and a half centuries of extreme cold and unsettled weather that affected Northern Europe from 1300 to 1850.) The book is strongest when Fagan focuses the early parts about the Medieval Warm Period and the abrupt changes in that occurred in the 14th century; the later chapters are more cursory, although the history of agriculture in 18th century France ...more
Sandra Strange
Oct 01, 2009 Sandra Strange rated it really liked it
So often the forces that shape history are barely acknowledged in history courses. Here's an example: the little ice age which determined SO MUCH of what happened politically, socially and economically from 1300 to 1850! And as a history major, I had NEVER heard anyone mention it! This interesting account will give insight into how much weather shapes history.
George
Mar 20, 2017 George rated it it was amazing
I found this combination of history and climate and how they interact fascinating. It is also a bit depressing. This is an account of the turbulent, unpredictable, and often very cold years from 1300 - 1850, known as "The Little Ice Age," in European history and how this altered climate affected historical events and the lives of people living during this period. It is filled with details, both climate wise and the daily lives of people. It is this second part that is depressing as it reveals th ...more
Daniel Watts
Despite the title, this is not so much a book about the Little Ice Age as a series of chapters on the theme of the role of the climate on human history and in particular the history of North Western Europe which are framed around roughly the period of Little Ice Age. Therefore what is given in this book is not really a coherent historical narrative, as such, but a series of chapters covering events and themes such as the Great Medieval Famine of 1315-1317, the expansion of glaciers in the Early ...more
Ashley Cunningham
May 25, 2013 Ashley Cunningham rated it liked it
For whatever reason, the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age are an interesting topic to me, so when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, I figured it would be an informative read.

It was an interesting read. I liked getting the big picture of these two climate periods, and Fagan's writing kept me going on. His list of the powerful storms and the political and social chaos often associated with unstable weather was eye-opening and sobering. I also liked how Fagan showed how t
...more
Alex
Feb 24, 2017 Alex rated it liked it
Good, but I couldn't finish it. Too dry in somev parts. Maybe I would have finished it if I read it some other time...
Elliott Bignell
Apr 12, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it it was amazing
As the title of this review suggests, Fagan brackets the Little Ice Age (LIA) between European famines which bookmark the beginning and the end. What he does not so neatly do is pin it down as a single phenomenon with a single cause. Indeed, as he writes, it has only recently been established that it was truly global at all. The picture he paints is more one of an extended period of chaos and extreme events driven by at least three causes and punctuated by warmer, more clement climes. His causes ...more
Mel Foster
Feb 19, 2015 Mel Foster rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who genuinely wants to understand climate change, ag history buffs
This book discusses the effects of climate on human society not only during the period 1300-1850, but the periods before and after as well. As such, climate change is discussed in its proper context, over centuries, rather than years. Fagan discusses a number of ingenious ways of extrapolating meteorological data from times and locations (this is mostly a Eurocentric book however) outside the scientific era. These include ice cores, tree rings, and other well-known methods, but also such methods ...more
Mike
May 12, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
Very good book on the impact of climate on human culture and some events, especially in Northern Europe which is the region for which we have the most record keeping relating to climate. The book gives a narrative of the changes in atmospheric patterns during the Middle Ages and how that affected the seasonal weather in Europe. It then relates those changes to the course of European history, especially their impact on the food supply


Since medieval Europe was primarily an agricultural society, ch
...more
Matt
Aug 18, 2015 Matt rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I found The Little Ice Age interesting in concept, but tough to fully endorse in practice. If I had to paraphrase the book's thesis statement, it would be as follows: "Weather patterns have affected human history." Hardly an earth-shattering assertion. To boot, Fagan's attempts to bridge human history with explanatory science always seem to fall a bit short in one discipline or the other, if not both.

On the science side, part of the issue stems from the sheer complexity of explaining away year-o
...more
Jack
May 30, 2016 Jack rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was a surprisingly interesting little book. It’s another one of those I read because someone else told me to, but I’m glad I read it. When people start a sentence with “I’m not a scientist, but…,” everything that follows “but” is just proof that they aren’t scientists. I too am no scientist. So I RELY on scientists, rather than dismiss what they know a lot more than me about. This book makes some good scientific points. Fagan discusses the role that climate change has played in the past mil ...more
L.
Sep 11, 2013 L. rated it liked it
I am typically a fan of Fagan's work and have enjoyed some of his books in the past, this one however, fell flat for me. While the subject matter was obviously well researched I found many of the connections drawn between different periods and different geographic areas shaky and not particularly beneficial to the continuity of the overarching subject matter. I realize that the little ice age had many contributing factors and took place over a large span of time however, it was very easy to forg ...more
Ethan
Jan 27, 2016 Ethan rated it really liked it
Shelves: brian-fagan
Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age details the history of the period between 1300 & 1850, where the world experienced a global cooling period marked by cooler winters and summers but also extreme short term swings between hot and dry and cold and wet temperatures. He focus's mostly on Western and Northern Europe, touching here and there on America and the East.
Fagan culls his data from an extremely wide range of data, from ice cores to wine harvest dates, personal journals, even paintings, and
...more
Dale
Jul 02, 2012 Dale rated it really liked it
Nice little book marred by the insertion of a unnecessary global warming chapter.

Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 is, by definition, an introduction to the climate phenomenon of the same name. Actually, it is quite similar to a History Channel documentary of the same name. On page xix Fagan notes that historians are either "parachutists" (big picture) or "truffle hunters" (love all of the details of one particular era or topic). Fagan warns that this is a p
...more
M.J.
Oct 29, 2013 M.J. rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I have seen Mr. Fagan lecture (and enjoyed his lectures), so I was looking forward to hear his take on the role of climate in human history. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but it has been resting on my desk waiting for its review. Perhaps it is because I am conflicted about the book that the review has been so hesitant in coming. I wanted to like The Little Ice Age more than I actually did.

Between 1300 and 1850 the world endured a cold snap that was unseen since the Ice Age. This "l
...more
Dan
Oct 02, 2013 Dan rated it liked it
Since I've first learned about the climatic features of this period of time, I've wanted to read this book. I found The Little Ice Age to be very informative and interesting. It was a shorter, quicker read than I expected, but it was well researched with many first person accounts. It leans more toward social science references rather than physical science references which I found unbalanced. Mr. Fagan's doomsday warning at the end came as no surprise to me. It did have a tinge of hope for human ...more
Stephen
Jun 21, 2013 Stephen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science, climate
I recently read Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850. It's an odd blend of history and science, and chronicles a long and weary succession of droughts, famines, plagues, and death. Small wonder the Calvinists subscribed to such a vicious god: if I'd lived through these years I'd start to think someone was out to get me, too. Fagan doesn't try to make a case for the age being caused by one thing: although there are meteorological cycles to consider, the timespan w ...more
Dree
Fascinating overview of climate cooling/warming from 1300-1850 (with additional info up through the 1970s). Focus is on Northern Europe--England, Ireland, France, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, with additional info from around the world to illustrate worldwide cooling/warming.

For me, two things are especially interesting:
--Fagan describes the climate-driven enclosure process in England, which left the poor with no access to land, and describes their becoming very poor farm laborers, driving im
...more
Liz Polding
Feb 18, 2016 Liz Polding rated it it was amazing
I bought this quite a long time ago and finally got round to reading it. It was a surprisingly easy read, given that it includes quite a lot of scientific data which could have made it rather heavy going in the hands of a lesser writer. In places it was actually rather alarming in terms of extrapolating likely developments resulting from climate change.

I've read quite a few books which make reference to the bitter winters of the period up to 1850, in particular the Thames freezing over in Elizab
...more
Jennah
Jan 29, 2009 Jennah rated it liked it
I really enjoy books like this. Ones that paint a new light on historical events and demonstrate new ways of looking at those events. It's not that this books says that the weather patterns described are the real cause of historical events, but that they have a significant impact on the results of those events and should be a recognized factor.

It's evident that in recollections or historical articles the weather itself is simply a footnote in the annuls of singular battles or famines. However,
...more
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Brian Murray Fagan (born 1 August 1936) is a prolific author of popular archaeology books and a professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA. Fagan was born in England where he received his childhood education at Rugby School. He attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied archaeology and anthropology (BA 1959, MA 1962, PhD 1965). ...more
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“The heyday of the Norse, which lasted roughly from A.D. 800 to about 1200, was not only a byproduct of such social factors as technology, overpopulation and opportunism. Their great conquests and explorations took place during a period of unusually mild and stable weather in northern Europe called the Medieval Warm Period-some of the warmest four centuries of the previous 8,000 years.” 0 likes
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